Is It Legal … To Throw Biodegradable Items From Your Car?

By Rachael Mason

Is it legal to throw biodegradable items from your car?

You know better than to litter, but if you just ate a banana in your car, you may have been awfully tempted to throw the peel right out the window. After all, it’s not really trash if it’s just going to biodegrade, right?

Well, resist the urge to let those peels fly.

You might think that organic items, like fruit peels, biodegrade quickly. That’s not the case. An orange peel can take up to six months to break down. And even a single apple core or banana peel can attract rodents and other wildlife. When those animals venture near roadways, they can cause accidents.

Yet, many of use throw food or other organic material on the group, usually from a car window. In doing so, we’re not only hurting the environment, we may also be breaking the law.

How does the law define litter?

“Litter laws very clearly cover all kinds of food, whether biodegradable or not,” says attorney Brian Albert of legal information website THELAW.TV. “The laws vary from state to state, but they don’t really distinguish between different types of food. Littering is littering.”

For example, in Delaware, litter includes “all rubbish, waste material, refuse, cans, bottles, garbage, trash, debris, dead animals or other discarded materials of every kind and description.” While in Louisiana, the law distinguishes between “simple littering,” like trash accidentally flying out of the back of a truck, and “intentional littering,” which includes disposing of trash from a car window. The penalties in Louisiana are increased for those who deliberately let their trash fly.

What are the penalties for littering?

All 50 states have laws that prohibit littering, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Penalties may include fines, community service, and even jail time. In Delaware, people caught littering will pay a fine of $50 and can receive up to eight hours of community service. In Georgia, litterers may be fined between $100 and $1,000 or imprisoned for as long as a year. They may also have to clean the area where they left their litter and they could have their names published in a community newspaper.

But no matter where you live, it pays to throw away your trash properly — even if that item is nothing but a banana peel or apple core.

So, why should you be concerned about litter?

One little piece of trash might not seem like a big deal, but litter is a major problem in the United States. In fact, litter cleanup costs the country $11.5 billion a year.

You may not have realized this, but litter can serve as a magnet for other trash. “A strong contributor to littering is the prevalence of existing litter.  About 15 percent of littering is affected by the environment. Litter on the ground begets more litter,” according to the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

And food isn’t the only culprit.

Billions of cigarettes are produced each year and many of those smoked butts are thrown onto the ground. Many smokers believe their cigarette butts will break down naturally, but the plastic filters can take between 18 months and 10 years to degrade. That plastic enter the water supply through sewers and storm drains.

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